Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Your Complete Guide to Hamas’ Network of Terror Tunnels
Video Of The Week - BBC goes inside Gaza tunnel - http://tinyurl.com/h7ny7xx
Is another Gaza war inevitable? Judging by the latest reports in the Israeli media, it might seem that way. At a funeral for seven Hamas militants killed in a tunnel collapse, Hamas’ Gaza-based chief Ismail Haniyeh declared that the so-called “terror tunnels” are a mainstay of the terrorist group’s strategy against Israel. A senior Israeli defense official told reporters that Hamas has mostly rebuilt its tunnel infrastructure, which Israel destroyed in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. During the operation, the IDF demolished 32 tunnels, 14 of which crossed into Israel for the purpose of conducting terror attacks. Hamas publically confirmed their ongoing efforts to rebuild the tunnels by praising its subterranean heroes who are “toiling day and night” on reconstruction. Meanwhile, reports have trickled out of Gaza that six tunnels collapsed over the past two months, killing at least thirteen Gazans.
The debate further heated up when a sneak peek at a State Comptroller report showed great dissatisfaction with how the Israeli Defense Ministry was handling the tunnel threat. Residents in communities near the Gaza border complain that they can hear and feel digging under their homes. In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised he would respond appropriately to all threats and “will act very forcefully against Hamas, and with much more force than…Protective Edge.” Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, not to be outdone, called on Netanyahu to “bomb the tunnels and destroy this threat.…Why are we waiting? For terrorists with…weapons drawn to emerge in a kibbutz?” Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett similarly called for a preemptive attack on the tunnels. In any case, the public remains on edge.
But is war inevitable? And is it the best option?
By 2009’s Operation Cast Lead, Hamas’ use of tunnels had evolved into a clear threat. In 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF targeted the tunnels as much as it did Hamas’ rocket capabilities. In 2013, a large tunnel was discovered that led to an Israeli town. It was clearly intended for a large-scale terrorist attack. An even bigger tunnel was discovered later that year.
During Protective Edge, a major tunnel infiltration aimed at the residents of a kibbutz near the Gaza border was thwarted just as terrorists were emerging on the Israeli side. Four more such attacks would be interdicted, some with the Hamas fighters having already crossed into Israel. What had originally been an operation to halt Hamas’ rocket fire evolved into an operation to neutralize the tunnel threat.
Clearly, then, the tunnel infrastructure is both Hamas’ primary military asset and a major threat to Israel’s security. How can Israel effectively combat it?
The history of warfare is, in essence, a history of constant adaptation to an enemy’s capabilities. The tunnels were born out of this competition. They are classic examples of asymmetric warfare, in which a much weaker enemy takes advantage of the vulnerabilities of a militarily stronger force. But it is important to differentiate between the three distinct types of tunnels used by Hamas, and explore their tactical and strategic importance.
The original tunnels, as noted, were and still are used to smuggle arms and commercial goods from Egypt to Gaza. Hamas substantially expanded this infrastructure after 2007 and Israel’s imposition of a blockade. At the time, it is estimated that there were as many as 2,500 such tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt in the area of Rafah.
A second type of tunnel is the tactical or “defensive” variety. These are meant to assist Hamas in its next war if Israel sends in ground troops. They form a subterranean web underneath Gaza, and give fighters and commanders freedom of movement, allowing them to evade capture, hide from aerial assault, and maintain the element of surprise. Rockets, launchers, and ammunition are also stored in these tunnels, so Hamas can continue firing even while under aerial attack. Hamas commanders are said to have personal tunnels for themselves and their families
It is the third type of tunnel, however, which is most worrying—the terror tunnels. Given Israel’s security fence and buffer zone on the border, Hamas was left with essentially two options for launching attacks on Israel—going over the fence, via rockets and mortars, or going under it. And since Israel’s anti-missile capabilities have advanced to the point where the rocket threat is largely neutralized, Hamas shifted its investments underground.
IDF intelligence and military planners have been aware of this emerging threat for some time now, with Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot affirming that it is now one of the army’s main priorities. Despite this and nearly a billion shekels (about $250 million) spent over the past decade in search of a solution, there are still only a limited number of ways to detect and fight the tunnels—which is primarily why Hamas is so keen on using them.
As far as detection, technologies are still limited, although the Israeli Ministry of Defense has been working around the clock on the problem for some time. Successful early testing was conducted this past year, but an operational solution—essentially an Iron Dome for tunnels—is still a ways off.
There is a tragic side to Hamas’ tunnel strategy. Roughly 9,000 homes were destroyed during Protective Edge, and very few have been rebuilt. This is not Israel’s fault, as building supplies flow regularly into Gaza. But according to declassified intelligence reports, these supplies are routinely stolen by Hamas in order to serve the group’s terrorist purposes. Hamas smuggles in cement, diverts from construction and humanitarian donations, and even raids civilian construction sites in order to rebuild its tunnels. Estimates are that one tunnel can cost a million dollars to build and uses around 50,000 tons of concrete. Close to a million tons of concrete were poured into the terror tunnels before 2014.
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